Brisbane Convention Centre, February 11, 2013
He was one-quarter of the Fab Four but poor ol’ Ringo Starr was never really considered the equal of his peers. While John and Paul were busy penning the soundtrack to the sixties, Ringo was there in the background providing the beats and writing nursery rhyme lyrics about Octopus’s Gardens in the shade. John once quipped that he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.
He might have been the funny one your gran liked, but he was one of the Beatles all the same and you don’t see them in Brisbane very often. Paul hasn’t played here since November ’75 and until tonight Ringo hadn’t hit a drum skin in this town since the Beatles tour of ’64. With almost half a century between appearances the Convention Centre is packed for this rare opportunity.
One-quarter of the Beatles
After the world’s shortest support act slot (acoustic three-piece Mojo Jacket play for barely 15 minutes – blink and you’ll miss it) a trim looking 72-year old Ringo Starr takes to the stage. He is greeted by a raucous applause as he flashes peace signs at every corner of the room. It is all a bit surreal and there is a definite sense of occasion.
As the name suggests this is not a solo show and Ringo is back by his All-Starr Band, a revolving entourage of musicians that has previously included the likes of Joe Walshe of the Eagles and the Who’s John Entwistle.
The All-Starr band circa 2013 includes Toto alumni Steve Lukather, Gregg Rolie from Santana and Journey,Todd Rundgren (best known for his solo career and his albums with Utopia) and Mr Mister’s Richard Page. Session musicians Mark Rivera and Gregg Bissonette complete the lineup.
“What’s my name?!” …. “Ringo!”
The might all be ‘Starrs’ in their own right but there is only one Starr the crowd is here to see and that is Mr Richard Starkey himself. Ringo will spend half the night in familiar territory behind the drum-kit, and the other half up-front and centre playing front man.
He has been touring the All-Starr show for over 20-odd years but the front man thing doesn’t come naturally to Ringo and his dance moves are akin to somebody’s dad reluctantly dancing at a wedding.
But really, what else do you expect from a man who once narrated Thomas the Tank Engine? You don’t expect Ringo Starr to prance around the stage like a Freddie Mercury or a Mick Jagger. Instead he uses his charm and witty banter to engage the crowd – it works and he has them in the palm of his hand all evening.
His comic timing is impeccable (“this one is from that band I used to be in” … *loud applause* … Rory Storm & the Hurricanes!”) and he is refreshingly humble. Self-deprecating one-liners are peppered through-out the show as he pokes fun at his early Beatles lyrics and the poor sales of his most recent record, Ringo 2012 (“Did anyone here buy it… there’s one!”).
The show is half Ringo and half All-Starrs. Ringo digs into his back catalogue to play a dozen or so tunes, while the rest of the band make up the balance by performing a couple of their own songs each. Each performance stream is tangled up into a set list that crosses genres and decades all over the place.
From Ringo’s side there is obviously a big focus on the Beatles, with eight tracks once performed by Liverpool’s finest getting a run. Perhaps the likes of ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ or ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ never got much attention amidst a discography that included 27 number one hits, but hearing them in isolation allows for a new appreciation of Ringo’s contribution to the group.
Without doubt the highlight comes from the rousing sing-a-long finale of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ which segues into the chorus of Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ to close the show. For a few minutes it is 1967 and that’s Billy Shears himself from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Ringo’s solo tunes are a bit of a mixed bag, though. ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ and ‘Photograph’ (a particularly poignant tune since the passing of George who Ringo co-wrote it with) from 1973’s Ringo are excellent and worthy of inclusion in a set featuring Beatles songs, but the two songs he plays from his most recent album fall flat.
‘Wings’ (originally recorded for Ringo the 4th in 1977 but re-recorded for the new album) is largely passable but ‘Anthem’ in just ridiculous. Ringo introduces it as an “anthem about peace and love”. Lyrics include “this is an anthem about peace and love”. Admirable sentiment perhaps, but it is hard to do anything other than chuckle sympathetically throughout.
On paper the other part of tonight’s show – the All-Starr part – seems like it has been shoe-horned in. But in reality it works well, and there is enough talent and personality on stage to smooth over the cracks and prevent the show from entering bad cover band territory. Songs like Toto’s ‘Africa’ and Mr Mister’s ‘Broken Wing’ might be cheesy staples of 4KQ’s playlist but they are amongst the highlights of the night.
If there is a criticism of the concert (other than the omission of Octopus’s Garden from the set – Ringo has never played it live during the All-Starr band period) it is the tame reaction of the crowd who need to be coerced to their feet and sing along only softly. But given that the average age of the crowd is approaching the upper echelons of human life expectancy this is no surprise. It fails to deter from the performance but it does flatten the sense of occasion just that little bit as songs like ‘Yellow Submarine’ miss out on the mass sing-a-longs they deserve.
It was half-a-century in the making but Ringo Starr’s return to Brisbane is a triumphant one – even if he did call on a little help from his friends.
Matchbox (Carl Perkins cover)
It Don’t Come Easy
I Saw the Light (Todd Rundgren cover)
Evil Ways (Santana cover)
Rosanna (Toto cover)
Kyrie (Mr. Mister cover)
Don’t Pass Me By (The Beatles cover)
Bang the Drum All Day (Todd Rundgren cover)
Boys (The Shirelles cover)
Yellow Submarine (The Beatles cover)
Black Magic Woman (Fleetwood Mac cover)
You Are Mine (Richard Page cover)
Honey Don’t (Carl Perkins cover)
Africa (Toto cover)
Everybody’s Everything (Santana cover)
I Wanna Be Your Man (The Beatles cover)
Love Is the Answer (Utopia cover)
Broken Wings (Mr. Mister cover)
Act Naturally (Buck Owens cover)
Hold the Line (Toto cover)
With a Little Help from my Friends (The Beatles cover)
Give Peace a Chance (John Lennon cover)